By Justin Sondel
A city housing project took a step forward Monday night.
The Niagara Falls City Council unanimously passed a measure authorizing the sale of four city-owned properties on Seventh Street to Housing Visions Inc., a housing not-for-profit based in Syracuse, for $2,000.
The agency plans to build apartments for low- to moderate-income city residents on the plots as part of a larger project that would also see Housing Visions renovate a vacant school district administration building and demolish adjacent garages for more apartments.
City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian, who said he needed to do more research on the company and project before deciding on his vote when reached by the Gazette last week, said he still has some questions and concerns, but the sale of the properties allow the council to review the agency's proposal further before granting final approval.
"It's a good start," he said. "We'll see what this project evolves too, what they have in mind, what direction they want to go."
The agency still needs to get the approval of voters to buy the school district property with a Dec. 4 referendum deciding whether the district will be allowed to sell the vacant buildings to Housing Visions. It would pay the school district $20,000 for its properties and the city would see approximately $16,500 in taxes each year, according to documents from the city's Community Development department.
Should the agency gain approval through the vote they would then be subject to a series of hearings and approvals from the city that would allow the council to vet the plan further, Choolokian said.
"This is just an early stage," he said. "We'll get everybody involved. There will be transparency right through the process."
Choolokian said that the city will do well to get rid of vacant land and buildings and put them back on the tax rolls if the project is completed.
"To me I think it's a good thing to get rid of the properties that's been vacant," he said.
Housing Visions representatives appeared before council at the Oct. 15 council meeting, giving basic outlines for their plans. The apartments would be rented to people of varying income levels. Eligibility to rent the apartments will be income based and the agency will conduct searches for criminal background, credit history reports and sex offender registration and require landlord references.
The agency is hoping to attract employees of the nearby Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.
Seth Piccirillo, the director of the city's Community Development department, said that the agency will now be able to work on a site plan to present to the city's planning board.
"This was a big step for the city end," Piccirillo said.
Piccirillo said he hopes city voters will see the value that the agency can create by turning vacant land and buildings into taxable property.
"The difference between sale and taxes and demolition is sizable," Piccirillo said.
Piccirillo said his department is planning a meeting for November and will be using social media to distribute information on the project.
"We've just got to continue to talk to the community and move forward," Piccirillo said.